‘Chief, Vice, help us keep our homes’By Jaymee T. Gamil
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Where is that line that supposedly separates the Jusmag property and the Consular Area in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City?
Perhaps the two highest officials of the country can help settle the matter for the anxious residents composed mostly of military men and their families.
The Consular Area Residents Association Inc. (Carai) in Fort Bonifacio has written to President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay, appealing for their intervention as they claim that the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) is mistakenly evicting them from their homes.
The BCDA is set to demolish structures on a 10-hectare area straddling the Jusmag property, which the agency owns, and the neighboring Diplomatic and Consular Area, over which the BCDA has administrative control.
The Carai is composed mostly of veteran and active soldiers and led by retired Col. Benjamin Zabat and lawyer Howard Calleja. Last week, the group disclosed that on July 20 it received eviction and demolition warnings from the BCDA even though its members reside on the consular area and not on the Jusmag property.
But the BCDA countered that it had obtained clearances for the demolition from concerned government offices, and maintained that Carai members were informal settlers occupying a part of the Jusmag property.
The agency said Carai’s membership was just down to 21 families and that 277 other families—or 93 percent of the settlers—had already agreed to BCDA’s relocation program.
Still, Carai wrote to the President—referring to him as the “Commander in Chief of all the Armed Forces in the Philippines”—to insist that BCDA was overstepping its jurisdiction.
“According to Proclamation No. 423, which established the Fort Andres Bonifacio Military Reservation, [the Diplomatic and Consular Area] is not part of the properties of BCDA,” they argued.
They also alleged that they were being “harassed, intimidated and threatened by BCDA representatives.”
“These soldiers, retired veterans and their families put their lives at risk in the service of their fellow Filipinos,” they added. “Clearly, this is not the way to treat the soldiers and retired veterans who have chosen to serve and defend our country.”
Turning to Binay, who also chairs the Housing and Development Coordinating Council, the group said the eviction contradicted the purpose of the BCDA and the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.
Carai, which earlier threatened BCDA with legal action, said it was still “willing to negotiate and talk with the proper authorities to settle this matter in a more humane manner.”
Earlier this week, BCDA president Arnel Paciano Casanova maintained that the area up for demolition was within Jusmag. “It is very clear that the government owns the property,” he said, citing a 2006 Supreme Court ruling.
He also cited a certificate of compliance on demolition issued by Taguig’s Local Housing Board on July 18.
Dean Santiago, BCDA vice president for business development, insisted that while “there are no streets or roads” or clear markers dividing Jusmag and the consular area, BCDA knows very well where the division lies.
“Based on our boundary survey, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved, we know what is within Jusmag,” he said.